“They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs.”
I first saw Demons seven years ago, at the inaugural #Nerdoween, hosted by our friends at the Nightmare Junkhead podcast. It wasn’t my favorite movie of the night, but it has stuck with me ever since. I saw Demons 2 for the first time more recently, in January of 2020, just before COVID and lockdowns and all that, which honestly make Demons 2 a more affecting watch now than it probably was then.
Directed by Lamberto Bava – Mario Bava’s kid – with Dario Argento on board as a producer and music by Claudio Simonetti of Goblin (not to mention a ton of songs by the likes of Motley Crue, Billy Idol, and Accept), you can kind of imagine what you’re getting when you sit down in front of Demons, even while, at the same time, you have no idea what you’re getting.
The gimmick is that a special screening of a movie is being held in maybe the coolest movie theatre in movie history, the Metropol in West Berlin (in real life, a club called Goya). As the folks in the theatre watch the movie, it starts to seep out of the screen like radiation and infect the audience, turning them into the demons of the title. And it just keeps getting weirder from there.
From any, like, quantifiable perspective, Demons is a weird mess, but it’s precisely that weird messiness that makes it stick in the back of my brain, haunting me. Naturally, I’m a sucker for the movie theatre setting and the premise of the cursed film, but the things that make Demons hang around don’t stop there.
At its barest bones, Demons is essentially a zombie movie, with the demons standing in for zombies. They even spread more or less the same way – get bitten or scratched by a demon, you’ll turn into one. Die any other way, you’ll turn into one. Get their blood on you or in your mouth, you’ll turn into one. And yet, there’s obviously something else going on, too. Something that cuts deeper than the fact that the demons first enter the world through the vector of the film.
One character suggests it’s the theatre itself that’s cursed, and there are certainly elements sprinkled throughout to support this. Yet, in the final reel, we see that the curse has already spread far beyond the theatre, and the demons are well on their way to fulfilling the prophecy that also gives the movie probably the best tagline in the history of horror: “They will make cemeteries their cathedrals and the cities will be your tombs.”
Anytime the film threatens to grind to just being a standard zombie flick with different makeup, something will happen to remind us that the premise is more bizarre than that. Instead of transforming, a demon will emerge fully-formed from someone’s back. When the panicked crowds try to escape the theatre, they will find the entries inexplicably bricked up.
It doesn’t entirely work, but it sticks in the brain perhaps more than it would if it had entirely worked. And like many of these Italian films from the ‘80s, it had a troubled and patchwork release history, meaning that there were times when it was difficult to see, or only available in a lackluster transfer. Such is not the case with this two-disc release from Synapse, bundling Demons and its sequel for your viewing confusion.
Demons ends – as many zombie movies do – with our surviving protagonists riding off into the sunrise in the hopes of finding a place that has been spared from the apocalypse, at least for now. Despite the number of movies that have ended this way only to spawn sequels, it does make you wonder where Demons 2 is gonna go.
And where it goes is to the Tower apartments, where just about everyone is watching a scary movie on TV… that happens to be the sequel to Demons (or possibly a documentary about the events of Demons, it’s unclear). This movie-within-a-movie-within-a-movie is just one of the clever bits that I wish existed in a film more interested in playing with them than this picture is, but still, Demons 2 is actually my favorite of the pair, in no small part because of these kinds of interesting choices.
While this installment is, if anything, even more just a zombie movie than its predecessor, it’s got no shortage of gonzo stuff going on, including a demon dog, a demon kid, and a smaller puppet demon that makes the obligatory high-pitched noises that all gribbly little puppet monsters were contractually obligated to make in the ‘80s and, honestly, pretty much ever since.
As is often the case with horror movies, I like Demons 2 the most during the lead-up, when we’re just watching all the people in the various apartments as they go about their lives. There’s a birthday party going on in one room, which will become ground zero for the demon outbreak, while the couple next door are expecting a baby. There’s a bunch of folks working out in the gym on the ground floor, and a woman who’s afraid of elevators having a tryst with one of the residents.
I love horror movies that feature a number of parallel storylines, and the idea of all these apartments connected only by the fact that they’re all watching the same thing on TV is one that I want to play with in a story of my own someday, while also serving as a time capsule of a moment before we all had access to pretty much anything on our TVs at any given time. Today, the odds of just about every TV in the place being tuned to the same thing at the same time is basically nil, but in 1986 it didn’t seem nearly so far-fetched.
Like Demons before it, Demons 2 looks great with the new 4K restoration on these discs, and they come loaded up with special features, including commentaries, interviews, trailers, and more. Perhaps more importantly, this release bundles together two movies that have not always been easy to get hold of in a convenient and attractive package. What more could you ask for?
Besides his work as Monster Ambassador here at Signal Horizon, Orrin Grey is the author of several books about monsters, ghosts, and sometimes the ghosts of monsters, and a film writer with bylines at Unwinnable and others. His stories have appeared in dozens of anthologies, including Ellen Datlow’s Best Horror of the Year and he is the author of two collections of essays on vintage horror film.